Important note about the following account
To protect identities, names have been changed. The salient facts of the case have not been altered in any way. As you can see, the story is told in the present tense as that is how ‘Reem’ experiences the pain of the past.
An Iraqi girl escapes ISIS into the arms of tragedy
Reem is 25 years old and lives in a Christian town in northern Iraq. One night, her father goes missing. No-one knows where he is, although Reem suspects he has been murdered by extremists. Shortly after, ISIS sweeps through the town and Reem, her younger sister and their mother flee to Erbil. Despite walking for miles, nobody will take them in. Eventually, a local priest offers them a place in his church where they camp out in the garden alongside other displaced people. Reem and her family spend three months sleeping in a thin tent, huddling next to each other for warmth. They are finally able to move to a temporary accommodation unit for internally displaced people.
However, the unit houses some violent and unhinged men. One night, a total stranger violently rapes Reem leaving her with physical and mental scars. However, due to the stigma around sexual assault Reem is unable to tell anyone about it or seek help. As some of you will know, Iraq is a deeply patriarchal society where women often struggle to have a voice. Shortly after the assault, Reem experiences her first debilitating panic attack. She feels unable to do anything. As night falls, the panic becomes unbearable. She won’t allow herself to sleep in case someone else attacks her or her sister. Gradually, fear and lack of sleep causes Reem to experience suicidal thoughts.
The terrible toll of unspoken trauma
After months of living in the housing unit, Reem and her family move to an IDP camp where international NGOs are present. Reem prays that her situation will improve. However, sexual assault and other forms of abuse are prevalent in the camp and Reem’s panic attacks become worse. By now, insomnia, anxiety and fear are the defining features of Reem’s existence. Despite the unbearable burden she feels, she cannot tell anyone because she fears she will be ostracized. Her silence is also protecting her mother and sister who she feels will be tainted by the terrible crime perpetrated against her.
Eventually, the family goes to Jordan where 60,000 Iraqi refugees struggle to make ends meet. Reem feels safer in her new home. However, the trauma is ever present and she feels unable to move on with her life. Reem’s mother and sister worry about her all the time. They cannot pay for accommodation or even afford food. Jordan is safe but it is more expensive than Iraq. However, thanks to your donations we are helping them meet the cost of both food and accommodation.
Thanks to your support, help is at hand
We fund a trauma centre in Amman where a German charity provides vital counselling services. Through this partnership, Reem is finally getting the help she needs. The centre offers a safe place without labels where Reem can explore pathways towards healing and can process her trauma. Reem enjoys art therapy which provides her with an outlet and a way of expressing herself. She is also receiving counselling from a qualified trauma counselling professional.
While Reem still experiences panic attacks and bouts of insomnia, they are far less frequent and debilitating than before. She is much more hopeful for the future. Alongside her therapeutic work, Reem is also accessing the other many resources at the centre, including English classes which have encouraged her to develop friendships with others. With your help, we will continue to support Reem and 300 other displaced and traumatised Iraqis suffering the effects of trauma.
How you can help
With your support, our trauma work in Jordan will continue to help those scarred by war. As a result of our efforts, many refugees will be able to move on with their lives. Please make a donation now via our donate page (there are numerous options for how to donate). Alternatively, you can send us a cheque made out to ‘FRRME’ to: FRRME, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hants, GU32 9DL, United Kingdom.